Waves of change

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Pinky Chandran, who spearheads Radio Active, one of India’s most diverse community stations, is on her way to Australia on an AIYD grant to research the world of Aussie broadcasting

 

Community radio has carved a niche in Australia over the past 40 years but it’s a relative newcomer in India—introduced little more than a decade ago.

It was hoped the platform would give a voice to the subcontinent’s many minorities, but it has struggled to take off.Pinky Chandran hopes to change that.

The 35-year-old has been running Bangalore’s community station Radio Active for the past seven years.

In October she will fly to Australia to spend six months researching community radio Down Under, with funding from an Australia-India Youth Dialogue (AIYD) grant.

Chandran, who took part in AIYD’s inaugural dialogue in 2012, wants to find out how Aussie broadcasters have built audiences and overcome the challenges unique to community media. The Indian Sun spoke to her about the opportunities and challenges community radio faces in India.

“We have about 170 stations and many people still complain that this is well below India’s expectation. We should just reach higher, but to reach higher we need to create that framework. We need to build capacity, we need to do a lot of things,” said Chandran.

“The research strategy is to find out all these things, and to really understand it from an operational perspective as well.”

Community radio came to India after a Supreme Court judgement declaring airwaves as a natural resource. Community media then lobbied for a radio policy that finally came in 2002. The government initially made it so educational institutions were the only ones allowed to start community radio outfits, but a fresh wave of advocacy led to a policy change in 2006.

“The government was quite sceptical about who should run a community radio station,” Chandran said.

Chandran’s station is licensed to the Jain University in Bangalore but operates independently. “I have my own set of challenges because it’s an urban station and I have different groups who are part of the station,” she said.

Chandran is being assisted by her co-researcher Archana Kapoor, who manages Radio Mewat in Haryana. “She’s working in one of the most backward regions of India. I mean it’s only 50-kilometres from Delhi… but to operate there, there are a lot of challenges,” Chandran said.

“Women don’t participate—or even if they listen to the program, when they call in it’s the husbands that call for them even if they want to talk to the station,” she added.

Despite the many hurdles, Chandran herself has succeeded in building one of India’s most diverse community stations. Domestic workers, waste-pickers and auto drivers can all be heard speaking out on the airwaves at Radio Active.

“It is probably the first station in the country to have such diversity, we’ve experimented with so many different formats,” she said.

“They need to be heard, they need to speak out because… there are so many policies coming in and they don’t even have a say… how can they contribute back to the government’s policy making?” she said.

Chandan’s research will look at the history of community radio in Australia, tracing the growth of the sector, licensing procedures, government policies, the switch to digital, funding and listenership surveying, among numerous other things.

“We were very curious about how did this movement originate in Australia? What challenged did they have, how did it evolve, what kind of regulatory framework does Australia have?”

Another key thing Chandran wants to find out is how Australia has managed to get Indigenous and minority voices on the air. “There were talks about should certain sections (in India) have their own radio station? Will it work, will it not work, will it divide the country more? How has Australia managed?” she said.

She also aims to bring home to India lessons on how Australia managed the tricky digital switchover. “Australia has moved way ahead in digitisation and India is still considering it,” Chandran explained.

“There is a plan to move after two years but are we ready? Only the national broadcaster will be moving and what happens to all of us? The receivers are way expensive … will people be able to afford it?”

She aims to present her research at India’s National Community Radio Sammelan next year and hopes it will not only help her counterparts in community radio but also contribute to a “forward looking community radio policy in India”.

AIYD recently announced the introduction of a grants scheme, under which AIYD alumni can apply for funding for projects that involve collaboration between youth in Australia and India.

The inaugural round of grants were awarded recently, with funding also granted to the creation of an Australia-India Energy Forum, a fellowship for a young Indian to intern with an Australian renewable energy NGO in India, and another fellowship for a young Australian to participate in a teacher training program in a rural Indian village.

The next AIYD conference will take place in Australia in January 2015.

Published in The Indian Sun (Indian Magazine in Australia)

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